Nail-biting gives way to eyerolling.
The inevitable problem that comes with a great set-up is that, at some point, questions have to be answered. Jeremy Lovering’s In Fear is, as the title suggests, focused on what people do when they’re overcome with fear. Lovering expertly handles building up dread and intensity in his film’s first half, only to undo all of it once he lays everything out. By the final act, it turns out that there was never anything to be afraid of in the first place.
Tom (Iain De Caestecker) and Lucy (Alice Englert) are a couple on their way to meet some friends at a music festival in Ireland. There’s already a sense of reluctance from Lucy, as it’s revealed they’ve only been dating for 2 weeks, and the situation is made more awkward when Tom surprises her with hotel reservations for the night. Lucy hesitantly agrees, and the two head out to spend the night.
The problems start to arise when the directions point them to a spot that’s so far out their GPS stops working. And then the seemingly endless series of winding roads they take cause them to get lost in its maze-like structure. Road signs begin to contradict themselves, and as day turns into night Lucy begins to see what looks like a masked figure observing them in the woods. Of course, it’s easy to guess what happens next, and soon Tom and Lucy are trying to survive the night.
Lovering sets things up perfectly from the start. Englert and De Caestecker quickly establish a pleasant chemistry that’s still somewhat hesitant, as the two are still getting to know to each other. The fact that the two of them have only been together for 2 weeks looms over the first two acts, as their situation worsens and tensions rise. The very thin line between enjoyment and fear gets exposed once problems begin popping up, and Lucy realizes that she’s in the middle of nowhere with a man she barely knows. Lovering plays up on the terror of being in such a vulnerable position effectively, developing Tom and Lucy’s seemingly ordinary road trip into something much more unsettling.
The film’s major influence appears to be Ils, the terrific French horror movie from 2006 about a couple trying to survive a home invasion. Ils derived a lot of its horror from keeping its villains in the dark, and through their actions implying there might be a supernatural quality to the invaders. In Fear applies that same ambiguity in the first half, as the labyrinthine system of roads imply some greater forces could be at work. Lovering’s reveal of who or what is terrorizing the main characters is disappointing, leading to a final act filled with stupid behaviour and false profundity (at some point the line “Violence is the mother and the daughter” gets spoken, which is supposed to mean something). The limited location, with almost all of the action occurring in Tom’s car, also begins to wear out its welcome as time goes on.
There is one aspect of In Fear that is supposed to separate it from other horror films; Lovering withheld the script from his actors, giving them vague directions so their reactions on camera would be genuine. It’s a neat little piece of trivia that never translates to the screen. As it is with most mysteries, In Fear is much better when little is known. As the film tries to go beyond its well-done tension building to find something deeper, nail-biting gives way to eyerolling. In Fear is good at creating anxiety, but fails to sustain it successfully.